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Saudi Arabia to build futuristic ski resort with folded vertical village

Crown prince launches 'Trojena', the latest ambitious project in the Neom megacity, as architects raise eyebrows
Saudi Arabia says it will build a mountain skiing destination complete with a vertical folded city and man-made lake (Twitter/Neom)

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has launched his latest ambitious, architecturally challenging project: a mountain ski resort with a folded vertical village and a three-kilometre man-made lake. 

Not satisfied with merely building a 170km straight line city, an eight-sided city that floats on water, and an entirely non-profit city named after the de facto leader, the Saudis are back with their latest boundary-pushing idea. 

On Thursday, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched “Trojena”, a mountain tourism destination to be built in Neom - the futuristic megacity touted to be 33 times the size of New York City. 

“Trojena will redefine mountain tourism for the world by creating a place based on the principles of ecotourism, highlighting our efforts to preserve nature and enhance the community’s quality of life,” he said in a statement. 

“[It] will be an important addition to tourism in the region, a unique example of how Saudi Arabia is creating destinations based on its geographical and environmental diversity.” 

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The project will offer year-round outdoor skiing, a wellness resort and an interactive nature reserve, among other experiences, and is due to be completed in 2026. It will also include The Vault, a folded vertical village that “connects the physical and digital worlds”. 

According to Neom’s website, the man-made carved village will include “bespoke experiences where reality and imagination are combined”, although there were few details  about what this entails. 

Trojena's executive director Philip Gullett, a Brit, said: “In a way, it’s similar in concept to The Line, in that it’s concentrating that vertical village or city in one place, minimising the land take - and maximising walkability - rather than spreading all those elements out across a large space."

The tourism destination will also include a man-made lake just under 3km long, filled with freshwater. Gullett said the engineering challenge of taking water up to the lake is “achievable” but “pushes the boundaries”. 

According to a press release, Trojena expects to attract 700,000 visitors and 7,000 permanent residents by 2030. It was also claimed that the project would create 10,000 jobs and add 3bn riyals ($800m) to the Saudi economy.

Trojena forms part of the crown prince’s flagship Vision 2030 project, which aims to modernise the kingdom and diversify its economy away from a reliance on oil. 

Lampooned by architects

The promotional videos and images for Trojena have been widely ridiculed online, particularly by architects. 

“For years they said 'you can't build a futuristic folded-vertical village' and we believed them. Look at us now,” one architect joked

“Oh man, Nintendo gonna sue you so hard for ripping off Rainbow Road,” said another, likening the folded city to a course in Mario Kart

“Is Neom not a perfectly straight line anymore. What happened to the Neom of my youth,” an architecture grad quipped

A promotional video for the mountain resort in which people appeared to be skiing and snowboarding quickly uphill - seemingly defying physics - raised eyebrows.

“In a way, skiing uphill kind of works as a metaphor for this whole project… where the snow is made of the powdered bones of hundreds of thousands of indentured foreign labourers trapped to work on it,” remarked one social media user.

Last year, a report claimed that the grandiosity and sheer scale of Neom’s projects were driving its employees away. Urban planners offered the crown prince a simpler plan for a zero-carbon city, but Saudi Arabia's de facto leader reportedly retorted: “I want to build my pyramids.”

Neom is being built in the Tabuk province, where tribespeople are being displaced from their ancestral homes to make way for the projects. In April 2020, tribal activist Abdul-Rahim al-Howeiti was shot dead shortly after making videos protesting against his eviction, prompting outrage from human rights activists.

Alya Al-Huwaiti, a London-based Saudi human rights activist and dissident, and a member of the Howeitat tribe, told Middle East Eye: "The message it sends to members of Al-Howeitat, especially, and to all the citizens of Saudi Arabia, is that the tyrant MBS [initials used for the crown prince] is willing to commit international crimes such as forced displacement and destroy their homes and spend billions of their money for his delusional project. It’s a message of anger and unprecedented oppression."

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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